Jacksonville Jaguars: 2014 NFL free agency

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- There’s nothing wrong with swinging for the fences every once in a while. Sometimes it works and you do hit one into the stands.

Jacksonville Jaguars general manager David Caldwell took a shot with Alex Mack. He didn’t connect because the Cleveland Browns quickly decided to match the Jaguars’ five-year, $42 million ($26 million guaranteed) offer sheet Mack signed earlier on Friday. But it was a heckuva swing.

Caldwell deserves a lot of credit for attempting to steal one of the game’s best offensive linemen away from a Browns team that made a mistake by not using the franchise tag. The contract was structured in a way that was supposed to make it difficult for the Browns to accept by including a clause that allowed Mack to void the deal after two years, but Browns management accepted that risk.

Even though Caldwell was unable to pull it off, it should be a message to the rest of the league that the Jaguars aren’t going to be the last guy picked for the dodgeball game any longer. Owner Shad Khan has made a significant financial contribution to the team’s facilities -- spending $11 million to renovate the weight room and locker room and $20 million to help finance the stadium and scoreboard improvements -- and now he is showing he’s willing to do the same when it comes to improving the roster.

Adding seven free agents, including guard Zane Beadles ($30 million over five years) and defensive linemen Red Bryant ($19.5 million over four years) and Chris Clemons ($17.5 million over four years), was a good indication of that commitment, but his willingness to give Caldwell the green light to pay that much money to land Mack offers even more proof.

Caldwell has steadily improved a roster that was the worst in the NFL the past two seasons. Taking a shot at Mack was a shrewd gamble that would have accelerated the rebuilding process. It didn’t work, but the Jaguars are no worse than they were before Mack signed the offer sheet.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The next five days are not going to be easy for Jacksonville Jaguars general manager David Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley.

At any moment, they may find out that the Cleveland Browns have decided to match the offer the Jaguars made to Pro Bowl center Alex Mack. That news could come Friday night or they may not find out until 4 p.m. ET Wednesday, which is the deadline for the Browns' decision.

Until then, all they can do is wait and hope that the potential contract is structured in a way that will deter the Browns from accepting despite having the significant cap room available (roughly $30 million). ESPN's Adam Schefter reports that the contract is for $42 million over five years, including $26 million guaranteed. The contract also allows Mack to void the deal after the first two years and includes clauses that prohibit him from being traded or tagged again.

That deal isn't exactly team friendly, but it's much worse for the Browns than it is the Jaguars -- and for that the fans can thank former general managers Shack Harris and Gene Smith. Caldwell can afford to pay Mack that much guaranteed money because he doesn't have to worry about having to pay big money to re-sign any current Jaguars players within the next three to four years.

None of the players from Harris' final two drafts (2008 and 2009) remain on the roster. Eight of the 26 players that Smith drafted from 2009-12 are still with the team, but none will deserve big contracts. Quarterback Blaine Gabbert is gone and receiver Justin Blackmon is currently serving an indefinite suspension for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy. A team would be foolish to sign Blackmon to anything but a minimum deal.

With the rookie salary structure keeping signing bonuses and contracts reasonable, the Jaguars will be able to handle Mack's front-loaded contract over the next three seasons. Even if players from the 2013 draft class like safety Johnathan Cyprien, cornerback Dwayne Gratz, left tackle Luke Joeckel or receiver Ace Sanders do become elite players, they are on four-year deals that won't expire until after the 2016 season.

The Jaguars added seven free agents (not counting Mack) but some of those contracts include bonuses tied to playing time and most are front-loaded, especially for older players such as defensive end Chris Clemons and defensive tackle Red Bryant.

So the Jaguars can certainly afford Mack, and if the Browns decline to match the offer the Jaguars will have solidified the left side of their offensive line for at least the next three years until Joeckel' s rookie deal is up after 2016.

Caldwell deserves a lot of credit if he can pull this off, and it should be a message to the rest of the league that the Jaguars aren't going to be last guy picked for the dodge ball game any longer. Caldwell has rapidly improved a roster that was the worst in the NFL the past two seasons. This potential Mack signing shows he's not a na´ve, easy mark, either.

Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and GM Ray Farmer, who is in his first season with the team, certainly didn't handle the Mack situation as deftly as Caldwell. Instead of giving Mack the franchise tag, which guaranteed Mack a salary of $11.6 million in 2014 and meant any team that signed him would have to part with two first-round picks, they used the transition tag. That saved the Browns about $1.5 million in salary in 2014 and they had the right to match any offer that Mack received, but it also meant they wouldn't get any compensation if they didn't.

It was a gamble, and regardless of their decision on Mack they've lost. They either lose one of the best offensive linemen in the game or they agree to a contract that they can afford now but will impact their ability to extend the contracts of some of their other stars, like cornerback Joe Haden, receiver Josh Gordon and tight end Jordan Cameron. Plus, they could get Mack for 2014 and 2015 and lose him with no compensation if he exercises the clause that allows him to void the deal after two seasons.

The Browns may very well decide to match the Jaguars' offer, at which point the Jaguars will be no worse off than they were before Mack signed his offer sheet on Friday. But credit Caldwell for taking a calculated shot, one that could play a significant role in changing the franchise's direction.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Jacksonville Jaguars general manager David Caldwell is close to putting together what could become a pretty good offensive line.

Provided the Cleveland Browns don't match whatever offer the Jaguars are expected to make to center Alex Mack on Friday, of course.

If the Jaguars are able to land the Pro Bowler, Caldwell will have put together a group of players that has a chance to become the team's best offensive line in more than a decade. The 6-foot-4, 311-pound Mack is a significant upgrade from Brad Meester, who retired after the 2013 season, physically and has shown he's adept at handling the myriad of disguised fronts and looks defenses are using.

The Jaguars added Pro Bowler Zane Beadles (6-4, 305) in free agency and installed him as the starter at left guard, lining up alongside second-year tackle Luke Joeckel, the No. 2 overall pick in 2013. Joeckel (6-6, 306) played in only five games, four at right tackle and less than a half at left tackle. He did show a lot of promise in the short time he was on the left side, keeping St. Louis Rams defensive end Robert Quinn, who had 19 sacks last season, at bay.

When Joeckel moved from right tackle to left tackle following Eugene Monroe's trade to Baltimore, first-year player Austin Pasztor stepped into the starting job at right tackle and held onto the job for the rest of the season. The coaching staff likes the 6-7, 308-pounder and is excited about his potential as a long-term starter.

The only question mark is what the team will do at right guard. The Jaguars released Uche Nwaneri last month and could move left guard Will Rackley, who started 12 games last season, into that spot. The Jaguars also could try Mike Brewster, Jacques McClendon or Cameron Bradfield there as well, or draft a guard in the middle rounds.

Another possibility -- which seems unlikely at this point -- would be for the Jaguars to draft Greg Robinson or Jake Matthews at No. 3 and slide Pasztor to right guard.

Even taking the uncertainty at right guard into consideration, the Jaguars' new-look line has the potential to be pretty formidable over the next several seasons, as long as Joeckel continues to develop and Mack and Beadles continue to play at a Pro Bowl level.

The Jaguars haven't had a truly dominant offensive line since the 1999 season. That group was anchored by left tackle Tony Boselli, generally recognized as the best left tackle in the game at the time, and right tackle Leon Searcy. Ben Coleman, Zach Wiegert and Rich Tylski were the guards and John Wade started every game at center.

The '99 team didn't set any rushing records but long-time Jaguars observers consider that the best offensive line in team history. The Jaguars did go 14-2 that season and lost to Tennessee in the AFC Championship game.

The potential lineup in 2014 and beyond has a chance to be better than any group the Jaguars have had in the last decade. At the very least it's pretty much a guarantee that newly-acquired running back Toby Gerhart is going to be spending a large amount of time running behind the left side.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Though Jaguars general manager David Caldwell never quite closed the door on Maurice Jones-Drew re-signing with the team and finishing his career in Jacksonville, it's now apparent that it was only open a crack.

Jones-Drew said at the end of the 2013 season that he wanted to finish his career in Jacksonville but that the decision would come down to money. He also said he had a number in mind but would not elaborate. The Jaguars were leaning toward a two-year contract, but Jones-Drew privately told people he wanted at least a three-year deal.

Caldwell had very little discussion with Jones-Drew's agent, Adisa Bakari, once the 2013 season ended and said the Jaguars never made a contract offer. He also said the two sides hadn't spoken since the Senior Bowl in late January. The Jaguars' signing of Toby Gerhart in the first few days of free agency is another sign that Jones-Drew wasn't a high priority for the Jaguars.

[+] EnlargeJacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew
AP Photo/L.G. PattersonMaurice Jones-Drew ends his Jaguars career as the franchise's second-leading career rusher.
They would have gladly re-signed him under the right terms. The three-year deal Jones-Drew got from the Oakland Raiders on Friday was clearly out of the Jaguars' parameters of length of contract and what they were willing to spend.

So Jones-Drew's time in Jacksonville ends with him being the second-leading rusher in franchise history (8,071 yards) and the record-holder in touchdowns scored (81) and rushing touchdowns (68). He led the NFL in rushing in 2011 (1,606 yards) and made three Pro Bowls. His legacy, though, is more than that. He became the face of the franchise and the team's best player for the past five seasons.

But as much success as he had individually, Jones-Drew was not able to carry the Jaguars to the playoffs. Since Fred Taylor was cut after the 2008 season and Jones-Drew became the team's primary ball carrier, the Jaguars went 26-54 and never had a winning season.

His final season with the Jaguars was disappointing. Though he ran for 803 yards and five touchdowns, his average of 3.4 yards per carry was the worst of his career.

Still, Jones-Drew's time in Jacksonville will be remembered fondly, even with his protracted holdout in 2012 that lasted all of training camp and the preseason. When his career ends he should be the next player inducted into the Pride of the Jaguars.

Here are five memorable moments in Jones-Drew's career:

Colts killer: Jones-Drew ran for more yards (1,451) against Indianapolis than any other opponent. The first two 100-yard games of his career came against the Colts (103 and 166 yards in 2006). The second meeting with the Colts that year was a 44-17 victory and the Jaguars ran for 375 yards against the NFL's worst rush defense. Jones-Drew ran for 166 yards and Fred Taylor ran for 131.

Take a knee: Jones-Drew, acting on orders from coach Jack Del Rio, took a knee at the 1-yard line late in a 2009 game against the New York Jets. The touchdown would have put the Jaguars ahead 28-22 with 1:48 to play, but Del Rio was worried that left too much time for the Jets to answer. So he told Jones-Drew to get as close to the goal line as possible and take a knee. The Jaguars ran the clock down and Josh Scobee kicked a 21-yard field goal as time expired to give the Jaguars a 24-22 victory. "Sorry to my fantasy owners," Jones-Drew said after the game. "They told me to get as close as I can and take a knee."

Atop the NFL: Jones-Drew led the league in rushing with 1,606 yards in 2011. When you consider what he had to overcome to do that, it's an even more impressive feat. Not only did he battle a knee issue throughout the season, he had to fight through eight-man fronts every week. The Jaguars had cut starting quarterback David Garrard just days before the season began and rookie Blaine Gabbert was forced into action before he was ready to play. Defenses ganged up to stop the run but still couldn't stop Jones-Drew, who averaged 4.7 yards per carry.

Having fun: Jones-Drew clearly enjoyed himself on the football field, especially when he scored. He came up with creative celebrations, such as mimicking taking money out of an ATM after scoring against Kansas City in 2007 (which earned him a $7,500 fine) and imitating LeBron James' pre-game powder toss after a touchdown against Cleveland in 2011.

Blasted: Jones-Drew has earned the reputation as one of the league's best backs at picking up the blitz. It began during his rookie season when he destroyed former San Diego Chargers defensive end Shawne Merriman. The 5-foot-7, 210-pound Jones-Drew pancaked the 6-foot-5, 272-pound Merriman on a play near the goal line during the Jaguars' 24-17 victory in 2007. Jones-Drew's block allowed Garrard to complete an easy touchdown pass to tight end Marcedes Lewis.

Free-agent review: Tandon Doss

March, 28, 2014
Mar 28
An examination of the Jaguars' additions in free agency.

WR Tandon Doss

Contract details: He signed a two-year deal worth $1.505 million ($65,000 guaranteed). He received a $65,000 signing bonus and his base salary will be $645,000 in 2014 and $745,000 in 2015.

What's to like: Doss gives the Jacksonville Jaguars one thing they've been missing for several years: A big, physical receiver who has actually been somewhat productive on the field. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound Doss caught 26 passes the past two seasons in Baltimore, including 19 catches for 305 yards last season. He made his biggest impact on special teams, though, leading the NFL in punt return yardage. He also was a standout kick returner in college (he set an Indiana single-season record for kickoff return yardage in 2010) and he'll compete with Jordan Todman in that role.

What's concerning: Though he averaged 16.5 yards per catch in his two seasons in Baltimore he really hasn't made much of an impact. It will be hard for him to find playing time on offense behind Cecil Shorts, Ace Sanders, Mike Brown and Kerry Taylor.

From ESPN Ravens reporter Jamison Hensley: “Tandon Doss is an effective punt returner but an inconsistent receiver. When Jacoby Jones went down last season, Doss had a chance to establish himself as the team's No. 3 receiver and struggled to make any impact. His size is decent, his route-running is average, and his hands are unreliable. Doss led the NFL in punt-return average last season, but the Ravens phased him out of that role when he muffed a punt that led to a critical touchdown in Cleveland. He still has upside but the Ravens weren't interested in investing any more time in him."
ORLANDO, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars didn't land a center or a proven receiver in free agency, but they still had a better haul than most of the teams in the NFL.

In addition to re-signing quarterback Chad Henne, cornerback Will Blackmon and defensive end Jason Babin, the Jaguars signed seven new players -- highlighted by defensive end Chris Clemons, guard Zane Beadles, and running back Toby Gerhart. NFL Insiders Mike Sando, Bill Polian, Louis Riddick, Matt Williamson and Field Yates were impressed with what general manager David Caldwell did and gave the Jaguars a B-plus.

Their evaluation was based on the Jaguars adding quality starters at reasonable cost and making sure the players they signed are ideal fits for their schemes.

"The Jaguars got solid role players at good prices, and they needed guys who were at least professional," Polian said. "They did not have many. They added seven professional guys at great prices. That is good. And they got rid of [Blaine] Gabbert."

Check out what else they wrote about the Jaguars Insider as well as how they graded the rest of the teams.
An examination of the Jaguars’ additions in free agency.

G Zane Beadles

Contract details: He signed a five-year deal worth $30 million ($12.45 million guaranteed). He received a $4.5 million roster bonus and his $2.975 million base salary is guaranteed this season. In 2015 he will receive a $2.5 million roster bonus and his base salary of $21.975 million is guaranteed. In 2016-18 he is scheduled to receive a base salary of $5.475 million and a roster bonus of $500,000.

What’s to like: The 6-foot-4, 305-pound Beadles is a tough, durable player who has missed just one game in the regular season since the Broncos selected him in the second round of the 2010 draft. The Broncos led the NFL in total offense and were 15th in rushing (117.1 yards per game) last season. The Broncos used a zone-blocking scheme and the Jaguars struggled with the transition to that in Jedd Fisch’s first year as the offensive coordinator.

What’s concerning: Beadles made the Pro Bowl in 2012 but he didn’t play particularly well last season and he does sometimes get overpowered in pass protection. That hasn’t been much of an issue with the Broncos because Peyton Manning gets rid of the ball so quickly, but he’ll have to improve there.

From ESPN Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold: “Beadles is smart and was always prepared – offensive line coach Dave Magazu has joked if he messed something up in a meeting Beadles would correct him. He played in every game in his tenure with the Broncos, 64 in all and started 63, so was durable and reliable. Also made the transition from the Josh McDaniels scheme he brought from the Patriots to the read option the team played with Tim Tebow at quarterback to what they did the past two seasons with Peyton Manning. The Broncos just believed he would get a better offer than they would have given him and he did in Jacksonville.

“He’s better on the move in a zone run game and the Broncos felt that he could be overpowered at times in both pass protection and in the run game. He opened his career with the team briefly as a tackle – he played six games at right tackle as a rookie after he had played left tackle at Utah -- but they quickly moved him inside and that’s where he has played since.”
An examination of the Jaguars’ additions in free agency.

DE Chris Clemons

Contract details: Clemons signed a four-year, $17.5 million deal ($4.975 million guaranteed). He will receive up to a $4 million roster bonus this year -- $3.5 million on the eighth day of the league year (March 18) and an additional $31,250 for each game that he is active (up to $500,000). His $1.475 million base salary also is guaranteed in 2014. In 2015 he will receive a $1 million roster bonus on the fifth day of the league year (guaranteed for injury only) and an additional $31,250 for each game that he is active (up to $500,000). In 2016 and 2017 he will receive a $500,000 roster bonus on the fifth day of the league year and an additional $31,250 for each game that he is active (up to $500,000).

What’s to like: Clemons, who has 58 sacks and 13 forced fumbles in his nine-year career, gives the Jaguars a true speed rusher for the first time since Tony Brackens (1996-2003). He has had at least 11 sacks in three of the past four seasons and is an ideal fit for what the Jaguars want at their leo position, which is a hybrid end/linebacker whose primary responsibility is rushing the passer.

What’s concerning: Clemons is 32 and on the back end of his career. He had just 4.5 sacks in 2013, but he was returning from a torn ACL suffered during the 2012 playoffs. He said he finally felt 100 percent recovered during the playoff victory over New Orleans. The Jaguars are going to have to be smart in how much they use Clemons in order to keep from overworking him.

From ESPN Seahawks reporter Terry Blount: “Clemons still is capable of helping out as a situational pass-rusher, but his play was down a little in 2013. Two things may have contributed to it. One, he didn’t play as many snaps because the Seahawks had so many quality defensive linemen, and two, he may have come back too soon from ACL surgery. His play improved late in the season and in the playoffs. He rarely talks to the media and sometimes tries to intimidate reporters. He’s more bark than bite, really, but when he does talk, he often has something interesting to say.”
An examination of the Jaguars’ additions in free agency.

RB Toby Gerhart

Contract details: Gerhart signed a three-year deal worth $10.5 million ($4.5 million guaranteed). He received a $3 million roster bonus on the fifth day of the league year (March 15) and his base salary of $1 million is guaranteed this year. His base salary in 2015 is $2.5 million and he will receive a $500,000 roster bonus on the fifth day of the league year (guaranteed in case of injury). His base salary in 2016 is $3 million and he will receive a $500,000 roster bonus on the fifth day of the league year.

What’s to like: Gerhart is exactly what the Jaguars wanted in a free-agent running back. He’s young (he turns 27 on Friday) with low mileage (276 carries) in his first five seasons in the NFL. At 6-foot and 231 pounds, Gerhart is a physical, between-the-tackles runner who can give the Jaguars positive yardage on first down. That’s where the running game was particularly ineffective last season, averaging just 3.4 yards per rush on first down. That was the third-lowest total in the league.

What’s concerning: Gerhart has never been a feature back because he spent his entire career backing up Adrian Peterson in Minnesota, so there is some question about whether he can fit into that role. He was a workhorse at Stanford, rushing for 3,522 yards and 44 touchdowns, including 1,871 yards and 28 touchdowns as a senior in 2009. Can he be as effective as a lead runner?

From ESPN Vikings reporter Ben Goessling: “Gerhart languished behind Adrian Peterson in Minnesota and was anxious to show what he could do if given a bigger role. He talked on several occasions last year about how he was probably auditioning for another team, and performances like the one he put on in Green Bay, when Gerhart ran for 91 yards on eight carries, showed what he's capable of.

“Gerhart played well toward the end of the season, when Peterson was dealing with groin and foot injuries, and has been a productive third-down back for the Vikings for several seasons. He's a good between-the-tackles runner, and isn't afraid of contact.”

Free-agent review: Ziggy Hood

March, 21, 2014
Mar 21
An examination of the Jaguars' additions in free agency.

DT Ziggy Hood

Contract details: Hood signed a four-year deal worth $16 million ($3.5 million guaranteed). His base salary of $2 million is fully guaranteed in 2014 and he also received a roster bonus of $2 million, so he's getting a guaranteed $4 million this season. In 2015, $1.5 million of his base salary of $3.95 million is guaranteed for injury and becomes fully guaranteed in April 2015. He makes a base salary of $3.475 million in 2016 and $4.075 million in 2016. None of his salary in those two years is guaranteed. He is due a roster bonus of $400,000 in 2017.

What's to like: The Jaguars plan on moving Hood back inside to a three-technique defensive tackle, which is where he excelled at Missouri. He was playing out of position at end in Pittsburgh's 3-4 defense since the Steelers drafted him with the final pick of the first round in 2009. The 6-foot-3, 300-pound Hood is only 27 years old and gives the Jaguars good depth at tackle behind Roy Miller and Sen'Derrick Marks. Hood played in an attacking, up-field defensive scheme at Missouri where the emphasis was on tackling the running back on the way to the quarterback. He should beef up the interior pass rush.

What's concerning: The Jaguars are doing a bit of projecting here because Hood has not played inside in his five-year NFL career. However, Hood said his time at defensive end has allowed him to get better at using his hands.

From ESPN.com Steelers reporter Scott Brown: "Hood was durable and effort was never an issue with the former first-round pick. But he may have been miscast as a defensive end in a 3-4 scheme after playing as a three-technique tackle in college. Hood has excellent strength and a good motor but he is not a great athlete nor does he run exceptionally well.”

Free-agent review: Red Bryant

March, 20, 2014
Mar 20
An examination of the Jaguars' additions in free agency.

DE Red Bryant

Contract details: Bryant signed a four-year deal worth $19.5 million. He will receive up to a $4 million roster bonus this year -- $3.5 million on the fifth day of the league year (March 16) and an additional $31,250 for each game that he is active (up to $500,000). In 2015-17 he gets a $500,000 roster bonus on the fifth day of the league year and an additional roster bonus of $31,250 for each game that he is active (up to $500,000). He also gets a $25,000 workout bonus each year.

What's to like: The 6-foot-4, 323-pound Bryant began his career as a tackle before moving to end in 2010 and he said he's willing to play inside and outside with the Jaguars. He's a five-technique end, meaning he lines up over the offensive tackle and is responsible for the gaps on either side. The position in the Jaguars' defense is primarily as a run-stopper. Bryant, who turns 30 next month, missed only one game in the past three seasons and recorded 87 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and two interceptions over that span. He spent six years in Seattle and made 121 tackles.

What's concerning: GM David Caldwell's philosophy had been to sign free agents in the 27-year-old range but Bryant is older. It's a sign the team has had to speed up its rebuild just a bit by adding older players because the roster was so depleted. Bryant has been a good player and he should continue to be one for the next two years at least, but he's not the long-term answer on the outside. The Jaguars will most likely address this spot in the draft, as well.

From ESPN Seahawks reporter Terry Blount: "Red was one of the most respected guys in the Seahawks locker room, a team leader who often gave pep talks, or chastised guys when they need it. He's basically a defensive tackle who they moved to defensive end. Red is a top-grade player when it comes to stopping the run and controlling the line of scrimmage. Physically, he's as strong as they come. You may know this, but he's married to Jenelle Green, the daughter of former Seahawks DL Jacob Green. Red also is as nice a guy as you could ever meet."

MJD visiting the Steelers

March, 19, 2014
Mar 19
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Running back Maurice Jones-Drew could be back in Jacksonville this season.

In black and gold, though.

ESPN's Adam Schefter has reported Jones-Drew is visiting the Pittsburgh Steelers and that other teams are interested in Jones-Drew as well. If he were to sign with the Steelers he'd on the opposite sideline when they play the Jaguars at EverBank Field. Pittsburgh is one of seven home opponents. Dates have yet to be announced.

Jaguars general manager David Caldwell has said he would like to re-sign Jones-Drew, who has rushed for 8,071 yards and holds the franchise record with 81 touchdowns in eight seasons. However, the team signed running back Toby Gerhart last week and it's unlikely that Jones-Drew would be willing to share carries with Gerhart.

If he signs with the Steelers he'll have to share carries with Le'Veon Bell, who rushed for 860 yards and eight touchdowns after missing the first three games of his rookie season because of a foot injury.

Jones-Drew ran for 803 yards and five touchdowns in 2013 but his 3.4 yards per carry was the worst of his career. He said previously his production was down somewhat because he was little more than a year removed from Lisfranc surgery and was bothered by ankle, knee and hamstring issues.

But it could be an accumulation of the pounding that he has taken over his career. Jones-Drew, who turns 29 on March 23, is a physical runner despite his 5-foot-7, 210-pound frame. He has a lot of mileage on his legs, too. Has carried the ball 1,804 times, caught 335 passes for 2,873 yards, and returned 70 kickoffs and 15 punts.
Gus Bradley Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesJaguars coach Gus Bradley's enthusiastic approach to his job is attractive to prospective players.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- NFL free agency isn’t quite like college recruiting. Sure, in many places facilities are pretty similar, the possibility of playing time plays a role, and it can be a lifelong dream for a player to join a certain team.

But in the NFL, money is often the No. 1 factor -- and in some cases the only factor -- when a player makes his decision on where to sign.

However, it appears there is the beginning of a twist involved in the Jaguars’ pitch to free agents. Something in addition to the $11 million in upgrades to the weight room and locker room and the plethora of holes in the roster.

Coach Gus Bradley is quickly becoming a crucial part of the draw players are feeling toward the franchise.

Money and fit in a team’s scheme are still the most significant factors for free agents, but Bradley is beginning to gain a reputation around the league as a coach who is good to play for. More importantly, he is becoming known as a coach who is fun to play for.

When multiple offers are relatively equal, something has to serve as the tiebreaker. If what happened during the first days of free agency last week is an indication, it’s Bradley in Jacksonville.

"As soon as you meet him, he is already a likable person," said cornerback Will Blackmon, who joined the Jaguars in August on a one-year deal and re-signed last week. "That’s what’s really cool about all the competitive players that are coming here. They don’t have to come here. Usually teams are like, ‘Oh, Jacksonville didn't do well.’ But once they come here and they see the environment and they see what they’re about, they’re real attracted to it."

Owner Shad Khan and general manager David Caldwell created the environment, but Bradley is the public face. He’s the one who is showing visiting free agents a PowerPoint presentation. He’s the one spewing energy like mud off a tractor tire. He’s the one who had at least one visitor ready to put on his pads and hit the field after only a few minutes.

That was running back Toby Gerhart, who chose the Jaguars over Cleveland and San Francisco, which is led by Gerhart’s college coach Jim Harbaugh.

"I’ve never seen in anything like that," Gerhart said. "Meeting Gus, it was unlike anything I’ve … I walked away, and I was like, ‘Yes, I belong here.’ I actually was going away coming out thinking, ‘What type of person am I?' He talks about different characteristics of people and how can I make people better and the positive, prosperity and adversity. All this stuff he talked about in a quick 10 minutes. I was like, ‘I wish I had a notebook to write some of this stuff down.’

"I was enlightened and fired up and extremely excited. I’ve never met anybody like him. I can see why everybody spoke so highly, and you can tell things are going to get going and you’re going to want to jump on this train."

Gerhart was blown away even though he knew what to expect before his visit. He’s a former roommate of tight end Allen Reisner, who spent the 2013 season with the Jaguars, so he called him. Gerhart also talked to Jaguars quarterback Chad Henne, who also is represented by Athletes First.

"[Henne] said, ‘Trust me, there’s something about this program,’" Gerhart said. "Coach Bradley, there’s something special that’s going to happen."

Gerhart could have been the No. 1 back in Cleveland or gone to a San Francisco team that has played in three NFC Championship Games in a row, but he chose Jacksonville in large part because of his experience with Bradley. Defensive lineman Ziggy Hood and his representatives had contact with Washington, Oakland, St. Louis and Kansas City, but he chose the Jaguars. Being able to move back to his natural position at defensive tackle from defensive end, which he played in Pittsburgh, was the main reason, but Bradley also was a major factor.

"The first time I met Coach Bradley, his energy was high," Hood said. "It was different. This guy has energy. He was bouncing from wall to wall. He was from room to room, side to side."

If most NFL coaches are like poetry readings, Bradley is a monster truck rally.

But perhaps most importantly from a player’s perspective is that he’s a monster truck rally every day.

Players function best when things are consistent. They liked Bradley’s message, the way he treated them on the field and in the locker room, and his positive attitude during organized team activities, minicamp and training camp, but they wondered how it would be during the season. They especially wondered how it would be when they were 0-4.

Nothing changed. Not even when the Jaguars were 0-8.

That’s what Reisner, Henne and other Jaguars players told colleagues around the league. Not only will Bradley let you be who you are and allow you to have fun, but he’s also going to be the same person every single day.

That certainly doesn’t mean the Jaguars will land every free agent they target. Walter Thurmond and Emmanuel Sanders visited last week and signed elsewhere. Not everybody fits the system, and not everybody is willing to come to a small-market team that has won just 11 games in the past three seasons.

But playing for Bradley was a pull for several players this year, and that number may grow as his reputation quickly spreads throughout the league.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The signing of free agent Tandon Doss gives the Jacksonville Jaguars one thing they’ve been missing for several years: A big, physical receiver that has actually been productive on the field.

The 6-foot-2, 205-pound Doss caught 26 passes the past two seasons in Baltimore. The Ravens took him in the fourth round in 2011 after he had a standout career at Indiana. He caught 154 passes for 1,854 yards and 13 touchdowns in his career and set a single-season school record for kickoff return yardage as a senior in 2010. He led the Big Ten and was fourth nationally with 175.8 all-purpose yards that season.

Doss had 19 catches for 305 yards for the Ravens last season, and averaged 16.5 yards per catch in his two seasons in Baltimore.

The Jaguars do have two big receivers on the roster, but neither has done much on the field. Stephen Burton (6-1, 224) played in four games for the Jaguars in 2013 and has 15 catches in three seasons with the Jaguars and Minnesota. Stephen Williams (6-5, 207) appeared in just two games for the Jaguars last season and has just nine catches in four seasons with Arizona, Seattle and Jacksonville.

The NFL trending toward bigger cornerbacks makes finding bigger receivers a priority. Jaguars coach Gus Bradley said last week that the team would try to add one in free agency and also might draft one.

This is a deep draft for receivers, and the Jaguars did work with Alabama’s Kevin Norwood (6-2, 208) at the Senior Bowl.

Free-agency review: Jaguars

March, 18, 2014
Mar 18
Most significant signing: The Jaguars have finished last in the NFL in sacks the past two seasons, so adding defensive end Chris Clemons, who has 58 career sacks, was a good move. The 32-year-old Clemons had just 4.5 sacks last season after compiling 33.5 from 2010 to 2012, but he was returning from a torn ACL he suffered during the 2012 playoffs. He's a speed rusher, which is something the Jaguars haven't had since Tony Brackens (1996-2003).

Most significant loss: There is still a chance the team can re-sign running back Maurice Jones-Drew, but it would be surprising at this point because the Jaguars signed Toby Gerhart last week. Jones-Drew is finding that the market for running backs isn't as lucrative as he hoped. The Jaguars aren't likely to re-sign tight end Allen Reisner or defensive tackles Brandon Deaderick and Kyle Love, but they didn't figure into the team's plans beyond 2013, anyway. Seattle signed receiver Taylor Price, who has missed the past two seasons with a foot injury.

Biggest surprise: The Jaguars needed to pursue a running back because of the uncertainty with Jones-Drew, but signing Gerhart was unexpected. It's a good fit, though, because Gerhart is exactly what the Jaguars wanted. He's young (he turns 27 later this month) and has low mileage (276 carries in five seasons). At 6-foot and 231 pounds, Gerhart is a physical, between-the-tackles runner who can give the Jaguars positive yardage on first down. The Jaguars averaged just 3.4 yards per rush on first down last season, the third-lowest total in the league.

What's next: The Jaguars aren't done in free agency. General manager David Caldwell said he'll let the market settle and then go bargain hunting, an approach that worked last year with defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks. Caldwell would like to add another guard or center, an outside linebacker and a big, physical receiver. Those spots will also likely be addressed in the draft because the Jaguars have 11 picks. Beefing up the defensive line and adding guard Zane Beadles gives the Jaguars flexibility in the draft. They aren't stuck drafting for need.